Sunday, February 28, 2016

Board Meetings: How They Should Be Conducted

Today's blog is about notice, quorum, the right to speak, the right to record meetings, handling disruptive attendees and meeting minutes.

Notice Requirements:

The notice requirements for a meeting are contained in the Bylaws and/or Articles of Incorporation of the association.  Sometimes they are even contained in the Declarations if special notice is required to decide a particular piece of business, such as increases in assessments which require membership approval.

The Florida Statutes provide a default notice procedures if the documents are silent. The default notice procedures are as follows:

  • Regular board meetings must be "posted in a conspicuous place in the community at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting, except in an emergency."  

  • If notice is not posted, then the association is required to mail notice to each member at least seven (7) days before the meeting.

  • Any meeting in which assessments will be levied must be noticed with a statement assessments will be considered and the nature of the assessments. This includes levying annual assessments, even if assessments are not increased. While this sentence in the statute does not state 14 days advanced notice is required, it is in the same subsection that requires 14 days notice for meetings to consider special assessments and amendments to rules affecting parcel use.  My opinion is to provide 14 days advance notice and that seems to be the industry standard.

  • Any meeting in which special assessments will be considered must be noticed by mailing the notice to each homeowner at least 14 days in advance of the meeting and the notice must state assessments will be considered and the nature of the assessment.  This includes levying annual assessments, even if assessments are not increased.

  • Any meeting in which amendments to rules affecting parcel use must be noticed by mailing the notice to each homeowner at least 14 days in advance of the meeting

Quorum Requirements:

Whenever a majority of the board meets, even if it is at a picnic, and discusses board business, it is a board meeting and must be noticed and open to all members.  

For membership meetings, the quorum is the number of owners listed in the bylaws or other association document.  Florida Statutes provide a default of 30% if the documents do not provide for a quorum.

Members' Right to Speak, Right to Record Meetings and Disruptive Attendees:

It is truly amazing how many associations try to circumvent these two rights.  Either they are misinformed, are unaware of the law regarding these rights, or have gone rogue.

Every member has the right to speak at least three minutes at a meeting on any item on the agenda. This law used to have requirements the member had to provide advance notice, which meant the members were not given an opportunity to speak if the agenda was not published in advance. The laws have changed.  The board can adopt reasonable rules on how to comply with this and control disruptions, but not to the point members are denied their rights. Many associations still use the technique of holding all member commentary until the end of the meeting in an open forum, but this could be troublesome eventually. If there is a topic which has generated a lot of controversy, the members should be allowed to speak as long as they remain orderly. Robert's Rules of Order help in these situations.  Appointing a parliamentarian to keep the meeting in order is helpful too. If you do not want your meetings to go on all night, plan them out specifically. If you know you have a controversial topic, allow a specific amount of time to discuss it.  If you know you have someone who will want to talk three minutes on every topic, limit the number of times a member can speak, but make it reasonable. Use a timer for the three minutes so no one will accuse anyone of not allowing the full three minutes.  If the discussion is still heated and taking quite a bit of time, consider tabling the topic for a special meeting and plan for a longer amount of time to discuss.  If the topic is that important to the membership, the board should be paying attention to their concerns.

NOTE:  Any changes to the way meetings are conducted, including adopting Robert's Rules of Order, should be adopted as a policy by the board through a resolution, which can be written, voted upon, recorded in the public records if necessary, and published to the membership.  This will avoid any accusations of making up the rules as you go along.

Florida law allows members to record board meetings. IT IS THE LAW! They can use either video or audio recording and do not have to provide notice the meetings are being recorded. There is no expectation of privacy in an association meeting and board members do not have to give their consent.  Assume all meetings are being recorded. The board of directors can adopt rules to make sure any cameras are not interfering with the meeting, such as blocking the view of other members. Caution should be taken to not create a rule under the right to adopt rules just to make sure the members do not get a good recording and especially do not adopt a rule requiring the member to provide notice the meeting will be recorded.  Do not put your association at risk of a lawsuit for treading on the members rights.  They have very few, but the few they have they will fight aggressively to protect. If the board is not doing anything illegal or unethical there should be no concern with meetings being recorded.

(10) RECORDING.Any parcel owner may tape record or videotape meetings of the board of directors and meetings of the members. The board of directors of the association may adopt reasonable rules governing the taping of meetings of the board and the membership.

While an association has the right to remove a member from a meeting if they are being too disruptive, the trend to have law enforcement issue a trespass warning against an owner in order to keep them out of all future meetings is just plain dumb.  All meetings must be open to all members, so if an association trespasses an owner from their clubhouse, then the association will need to move the meeting to another location where the owner can attend.  Putting up physical barriers to prevent owners from attending is not a good idea either, especially the disabled.  You would think common sense would not make this an issue, but it became necessary for one homeowner to actually lobby our elected officials to amend Fla. Stat. 720.303(2) to include "A meeting of the board must be held at a location that is accessible to a physically handicapped person if requested by a physically handicapped person who has a right to attend the meeting."  His association spent over $100,000 in litigation costs because the association refused to hold any meetings where he could attend in his wheelchair.  He wasn't even asking for all meetings to be moved, just when there was a agenda item that was important to him.

 Meeting Minutes:

This is a very important topic because all too often the minutes do not reflect enough information about the meeting.  Each topic discussed, whether it was on the agenda or not, should be reflected in the minutes.  Each board vote should list specifically how the board members voted by name.  The only exception is if a vote is unanimous, which could be stated as "motion passed by unanimous vote."  Each item should have a motion to present the item for a vote and a second.

Now some words of caution.  The Florida Statutes have been revised to allow board members to "communicate" by email, but votes may not be taken by email. While this has always been the method used to provide information to board members about an upcoming agenda item, there has been a rise in the number of associations who obviously are discussing agenda items in detail in emails and then simply voting on the item at a meeting without discussion, thus circumventing the rights of members to be informed about the details of an issue. This will certainly cause a rise in litigation and is not in the best interest of the association.

The bottom line is board members and owners alike need to use common sense.  Board members should not look for creative ways to hide things from the owners and owners need to communicate in a reasonable manner at meetings.  Shouting at someone will not get them to agree with you.

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